Union Democrat staff

A clean slate, a fresh start and a new beginning.

All were promised in the successful spring campaign to recall the entire board of the Big Oak Flat-Groveland School District. But peace has not come to the three-school, 500-student district.

Instead, its brand new board is embroiled in legal trouble:

• Ryan Dutton, a Tioga High School teacher whose dismissal early last year prompted the recall, is now suing the school district for defamation of character - putting his friends on the new board in an awkward position. Dutton has since been reinstated.

• The district itself is suing Superintendent Mari Brabbin - who left town seemingly minutes after the recall - for improperly collecting sick leave pay. Because Brabbin departed with a three-year contract signed by the previous board, this could be just the beginning of financial problems related to the $110,000-a-year administrator.

The most disturbing issue facing the board, however, is not Dutton or Brabbin. Instead it is the bizarre, possibly dangerous and potentially very costly behavior of Mike Malloy, one of the new, presumably reform-minded trustees.

In June, Malloy reportedly sent a threatening e-mail to Lisa Rico, the district's former business manager. Then, according to sheriff's and court records, he brought her flowers and asked her to keep quiet about the offensive e-mail.

The episode resulted in a court restraining order that Malloy stay away from Rico; a still-pending harassment charge; Rico's eventual departure for the Twain Harte-Long Barn Union School District; and an apology from Malloy, who conceded that his behavior was "rude and uncalled for."

Whether the incident taught Malloy anything, however, is in serious doubt: On Nov. 9 he reportedly entered the office of Mike King, the district's interim superintendent, shouted at him, approached him and assumed "a threatening posture."

"Very unsettling," said King, a longtime Sonora High School District superintendent who in retirement has served as an interim administrator for a number of Tuolumne County schools. "I'm trying to help the district, and I have to put up with something like that. It's ridiculous."

"It made me sick to my stomach," said a secretary, who overheard the office confrontation. "I could tell it was threatening."

Malloy, through an assistant at his Big Oak Flat accounting office, said "there was no confrontation and there is no comment."

Still, King will seek a restraining order. And the interim superintendent added that three more district employees have reported adverse encounters with Malloy and two have quit.

Clearly, the board has a serious problem.

A pattern has been established and is beyond coincidence. If Malloy's threats and harassment continue in any fashion, it will not only deter trustees from their educational mission and undercut respect for the board, but could put the district at serious legal and financial risk.

It is a risk the district can't afford to take.

The answer?

Ideally, Malloy himself would realize the gravity of the situation and offer to resign. Given his denial in the wake of the King incident, however, this may be unlikely.

In that case, it would up to Malloy's board colleagues to let him know that departure is the best and only option. But this may not be likely, as the once-united reform board is now often split on 3-2 votes and, at last week's meeting, a sheriff's deputy was on hand in case of trouble.

A look at the election gone by may put things in perspective: The five incumbents, said recall backers last spring, made poor personnel decisions, didn't listen to their Groveland constituents, unfairly favored Don Pedro High School over Tioga and kept secrets from voters.

All were serious issues and, obviously, enough to carry a recall.

But Malloy's conduct is potentially more harmful than anything the five deposed trustees did and he should be treated accordingly.